Jack and Diane (2012)

12 02 2013

One of the few things wrong with Bradley Rust Gray’s otherwise excellent 2009 feature, The Exploding Girl, is although it’s very grounded and beautifully photographed, it’s a bit too minimalistic for its own good. Not so much in form but certainly in content. While, I agreed it looked exactly like a film that would be a favorite of mine, it didn’t necessarily feel like one. One can’t call his followup too reserved, though. While I’m not quite sure of saying it’s entirely bonkers (there’s a wide range of idiotic IMDb commenters that have already done that for me), it’s definitely not a safe choice.


I intentionally made this a double bill with Ry Russo-Young’s Nobody Walks just because they were both released last year, both superficially “indie” films. In my writeup of that film, I mentioned feeling sort of self-conscious typing up a plot summary. I feel the same here too, but for the opposite reason. Where as that film sounds like there’ s too much going on when put to paper, this one feels like nothing is happening at all. Indeed, it is fairly plotless. Jack meets Diane, and they fall in love almost immediately. Like many great “young love” stories, the film’s driving force doesn’t come from obstacles set up by the narrative, but from the inner narrative of falling in love.


If the last sentence of that paragraph sounds silly, you might want to turn away now. There’s also a story buried deep away within the film’s fabric about werewolves. It’s ridiculous enough to begin with, but how rare it appears makes the film all the more befuddling. The film was always designed as a “werewolf love story” but maybe Gray’s intention was to always market it on the popularity of Twilight (Riley Keough’s resemblance to Kristen Stewart is another hint to this) and only give the audience the smallest amount of fantasy/horror elements as possible. The contributions from the Quay Brothers exist in the same sort of space as the horror content, except their stuff is actually sort of weirdly beautiful. It’s a really small part of the movie, though, and people fascinated by their abstractions should be wary that their work is sort of minor here.


While there is plenty of ridiculous stuff going on, stuff that may or may not be about werewolves, Gray still has the restrained beauty of his previous film. In a way, it fits perfectly with such bizarre flourishes. It’s sort of the American equivalent of the musical interludes in The Wayward Cloud. Perhaps more a accurate comparison from that same film would be the finale, because it is just as uncomfortable yet weirdly romantic to see the protagonists in that film consummate their relationship as it is to see either Jack or Diane turn into a werewolf and harm their lover. It doesn’t make sense at all, and these moments seem to occur outside of the film’s normal time and space, but they aren’t entirely terrible.


I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on Gray’s previous work, since I’d argue that this is his best movie, but it’s important to see where he draws on his past. The performances here are remarkably candid, even though the dialogue of the script itself is (intentionally) vapid. Gray intentionally came to my attention in 2006 with the release of So Yong Kim’s In Between Days, a film he wrote. The coming of age thing was overdone even then, but the freshness of his texts came from the unromantic and more honest depiction of growing up. While he’s operating with a love story here and I would argue that this film is totally romantic, the same honesty is present. It, of course, helps when the performances manage to ring as true as they do here.


Riley Keough, the more impressive of the two leads, has a particularly remarkable scene where she tries to share her (now deceased) brother’s mixtape with Diane. I risk losing any potential viewers by describing the way she struggles to confess her love for Diane in this scene. It’s definitely one of the realest thing I’ve seen in an American film in the past ten years. It feels very unprofessional in a good way (think Paranoid Park, which could serve as an aesthetic companion, as well) and like Gray’s restrained compositions, manage to ground a film that has it’s fair share of fantastical elements, maintaining its realism even in the face of something from another realm.


The film might be a disaster, a beautiful one, but it’s inconsistent implication of genre does make it feel a little unorthodox even as it consciously experimental and arty. I would argue to the people upset by this inconsistency that Gray’s heart seems to be in the right place. The really important parts of the film, the romance between the two protagonists plays out as gentle and poetic, even as the life the characters face seems like the opposite.


Gray makes wonderful use of the Flying Picket’s cover of Yaz’s Only You, which is known to  most as the closing song to Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels. It’s another fit comparison, a film that seems crude because of action/gangster imagery, but is actually one of the most wistful works in all of cinema. Gray’s film operates on a similar level, even as his ends with the song matched to an extended static shot of Diane’s face, the formal opposite of the speed-manipulated, saturated conclusion of Wong’s film. I’m at the risk of being too meta talking about the intertextuality of a song that’s already a cover to begin with, but it’s a perfect point of reference. Gray’s film is a similarly kinetic and crazy love story, even as it is more restrained. Make no mistake, this is still a personal and unique vision, it  just uses the same vocabulary as the previously referenced films. It’s a masterpiece on its own.





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